North of the Market Square the main thoroughfare becomes College Street, and in the narrowest part stands what remains of the college founded in 1422 by Archbishop Chichele – 15 years before he bought the Oxford site on which he erected All Souls College.
Chichele College c.1425–1542
The college housed twenty members consisting of eight chaplains or canons, four clerks, six choristers, a song master and a grammar master. It was built around a quadrangle and covered a considerable area.
Together with other monastic buildings, the college was surrendered to King Henry VIII in 1542 (The Dissolution of the Monasteries) and retained by the The Duchy of Lancaster, who still own the site.
From 1542 …
This precious relic fell into disrepair. An old print shows that by 1729 it was already largely in ruin. During later years the Southern section of the college became The Saracen's Head Inn and the area was also occupied by farmers. In 1948 King George VI, as the Duchy of Lancaster, handed the college to the Ministry of Works for preservation as an ancient monument and it now comes under the shelter of English Heritage as a Grade 1 listed building.
The main surviving fragment of structure is the gabled front with its Tudor door and quaint gargoyles, and windows with square hood moulding. Above the door are empty niches that once held statues of the patron saints of the College which was dedicated to the Virgin Mary, St Thomas of Canterbury and St Edward the Confessor.
Since 2011 Chichele College has been managed by English Heritage in partnership with Higham Ferrers Tourism, Business and Community Partnership.
With Lottery Funding, they have created a medieval-style garth (garden) to enable many more people to enjoy the charms of the college grounds. The Chichele College Cloister was officially opened on 2 June 2012.
The gardens and grounds are open to the public from the College Street entrance until dusk each day, and have access for both wheelchairs and pushchairs.
At the rear of the college runs Saffron Road which bears reference to the fact that saffron was grown and harvested by the monks at the College, in what are now the playing fields but were originally an additional close of 4 acres of land. This was known as Saffron Close and was granted to the College for growing food for the members of the college. Acres of saffron crocuses in bloom must have been quite a sight to behold.
At the far side of this meadow can be found the Saffron Moat. But to locate this old fishing place (most probably for carp for the monks’ Friday meals) you would have to enquire for the "Cup and Saucer" by which name the ancient fish ponds are colloquially known because of their shape, which is original. It consists of an inner pond surrounded by a moat. Both would have contained water supplied by drainage ditches from the adjoining Saffron Meadows. Small fish and spawn would have been kept in the inner pond and the larger fish for the table in the outer. The ponds are a wildlife refuge, many species of birds roost in the trees and frogs and newts breed in the water.